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Saturday, January 12, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via trhe BBC: Chavez makes Colombia rebel call

Just a day after helping to broker the liberation of two high-profile hostages, Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez, Mr Chavez used his annual state of the nation speech to make the appeal, addressing himself to Colombia’s conservative President Alvaro Uribe.

“I ask you (Uribe) that we start recognising the Farc and the ELN as insurgent forces in Colombia and not terrorist groups, and I ask the same of the governments of this continent and the world,” Mr Chavez said.

But Mr Uribe quickly rejected the idea.

He said the insurgents were terrorists who funded their operations with cocaine smuggling, recruited children and planted land mines in their effort to topple a democratically elected government.

“The only thing they have produced is displacement, pain, unemployment and poverty,” Mr Uribe said.

The problem is: they are both correct after a fashion.

The regular application of the word “terrorist” to the FARC and ELN1 both as a descriptor and in terms of public policy is very much a post-9/11 phenomenon. Indeed, I wrote about this development in book chapter published a couple of years ago2 While the FARC3 has been called “terrorists” or “narcoterrorists”4 the regular application of the term “terrorist” comes only after the US declare war on terrorism in late 2001.

The problem with the terms “terrorist” is that it creates an atmosphere in which negotiation is essentially impossible, and if one thing is clear about the situation with FARC, the only likely endgame will be one that features some amount of negotiation. This has been true with every armed group in Colombia that has demobilized, including those portions of right-wing paramilitary groups who have disarmed during the Uribe administration .

And it should be noted that the paramilitaries in question, the AUC (the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia) are, like the FARC and ELN, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Further, the AUC has a hideous record when it comes to human rights violations and have utilized tactics that could be easily defined as terroristic. They also have clear ties to cocaine trafficking. As such, it is difficult to argue that one simply cannot negotiate with the FARC if one has negotiated with the AUC. It is also worth nothing in that context that the FARC’s history is one that has more elements of an actual political organization than the AUC’s ever did.5

It should further be noted that the FARC did support an overtly political and non-violent project in the 1980s by the creation of a political party, the Patriot Union, which was eventually systematically slaughtered by right-wing paramilitary groups which had ties in many cases to the military. As such, the FARC carry the memory of their allies being terrorized, and therefore use it as fuel to justify their own actions.

All of the above is so say that Chávez has a point6.

Uribe, however, is right as well—the FARC have caused a lot of pain to Colombians, and have also engaged in substantial criminal activity. Even setting aside their involvement in the cocaine industry, they earn somewhere around half of their revenue by kidnapping and clearly have no compunctions about stealing years and years of the lives of whomever they deem a legitimate target.7 Further, they have engaged in bombings and other violence that has threatened and killed innocent civilians.

There is, therefore, no doubt that it is a desirable thing to stop their activities. Four and a half decades of conflict between the state and the FARC have yet to produce a military victory sufficient to stop the fighting. As such, that option appears unlikely to succeed anytime soon (indeed, if ever). If we also consider the role negotiation has played in the past in Colombia, it again would seem that such a route is inevitable if the violence is ever to cease.

None of this is to forgive or justify the FARC’s actions, but rather it is a practical fact that perfect justice isn’t attainable here and that at some point there are going to have be some trade-offs made.

The truly depressing part is that even if some sort of political rapprochement can be achieved with the FARC’s leadership, the bottom line is that money that can be made via drugs and kidnapping will be enough to encourage many “guerrillas” to stay in the field, so to speak. That fact, however, should not dissuade the government from trying. Indeed, the negotiations with the AUC prove that even an imperfect settlement can reduce the violence, even if it can never eliminate it totally.

  1. The The Army of National Liberation, a smaller, less publicaized guerrilla groups that, like the FARC, has been fighting since the 1960s []
  2. “Colombia: Democracy Under Duress” in William J. Crotty, ed. (2005) Democratic Development and Political Terrorism: The Global Perspectives, Northeastern University Press. []
  3. For a variety of reasons, it is better to focus this conversation on the FARC and leave the ELN out of it, as they are smaller, apparently not involved in the drug trade, and have been in talks with the government. The ELN has been known to use kidnapping to fund its activities. []
  4. Although that terms was more likely to have been applied to groups like Medellín Cartel []
  5. Although, granted, it would matter what “political” means, but that is a lengthier discussion than I want to enter into at this time []
  6. Not a sentence I write very frequently []
  7. And not just overtly political targets, either []
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2 Responses to “On the FARC and Terrorism”

  1. Maria V Baier Says:

    Dr.Taylor, if you knew the long suffering that those terrorists have inflicted to colombians, you would not even give a chance to Chavez’proposition to clear this group from the terrorist’s list. The FARC deserves absolute reprudation from the international community which sadly, ignores the reality of the Colombian conflict.This terrorist group, supported by Chavez, lives by extorsion, kidnapping,drog dealing and arms dealing. They destroy the infrasctrure of the contry; they blow up entire towns. Colombia has the largest displaced population in the world, thanks to the criminal acts of the so called “rebels”. In addition, the Farc is demanding land for free from the colombian government. They want strategic areas for themselves so the can continue growing coca and carry out their criminal acts. In a democratic county like Colombia, a government can not ceed territory to any group, let alone a criminal group. The real intentions of the Farc is not to overthow the government of Colombia or to correct social injustice.The Farc fundamentally is a crimial organization that uses terror as a means of making lots of money without providng any benefit to the people of Colombia. Their main objective is to establish a criminal state within the territory of Colombia by exhorting the Colombian government to giving them exclusive control over land in Colombia. Chavez knows this and wants to ulilize the FARC as a base in Colombia for his “bolivariano army”. His main intention in negotiating the hostage release was to increase his influcence with these criminal groups in Colombia, not to help to cause of social justice in Colombia.

  2. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    Please understand: I am not in any way attempting to defend the FARC and I am well aware of their record. The question becomes what has the better chance of coming anywhere near a solution and utter recalcitrance on the part of the Colombian state won’t help, I would argue.

    It certainly seems to me that the AUC were equally as guilty of crimes and the government was able to deal with them.

    And ultimately, for me, the issue is simply whether an insistence of the label “terrorist” helps or hurts the situation.

    I am not arguing in favor of the FARC’s demands.

    (And, indeed, the AUC model would result in criminal penalties for members of the FARC).


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